Elio di Rupo, the 59-years old president of the French-speaking Parti socialiste(on the right in the picture), will meet with delegations from seven political parties again this afternoon. Di Rupo was made ‘preformateur’ by king Albert II on the 8th of July, to see if an agreement between Flemish and French-speaking parties in Belgium was possible before a new government could be formed.
Di Rupo succeeded Bart De Wever, the 39-years old president of the Flemish nationalist party NVA (left in the picture). He is the undisputed winner of the federal parliamentary elections of June the 13th in the Flemish electoral districts of the country. De Wever was sent out by King Albert as an ‘informateur’ on the 17th of June. He immediately took up contact with the undisputed winner in French-speaking Belgium, Elio di Rupo.
He offered him almost certainly the job of the next prime minister, that the NVA could claim as the largest group in the Lower House. But doing this he in a sense obliged di Rupo to put an offer on the table that the Flemish parties – especially the nationalists – cannot refuse, or at least not immediately. Their main demand is a far-reaching devolution.
In the weeks after his nomination di Rupo brought seven parties around the table: socialists, greens and Christian-democrats from both parts of the country and the NVA. These are also the parties that make up the regional governments of the country since the regional elections of last year. Together they have 105 seats of the 150 of the Lower House, more than the two-third majority needed to make constitutional changes. Paradoxically it is still unclear if these parties are ready to form a government together. Especially the Frenchs-speaking greens (8 seats) seem to hesitate after their election defeat in June.
On the Flemish side it is becoming clear that the Christian democrats (CDV) are siding again with the Flemish nationalist. The former coalition of both (‘cartel’), which led to the electoral breakthrough of 2007, but broke apart two years later, is restored all but in name. With a difference: in 2007 the Christian-democrats were in the lead and both together obtained 30 %. Now the nationalists are the biggest and both together command 46 % of the Flemish votes.
At the Christian-democrat side the many mayors of the party – who were elected with the cartel in the local elections of 2006 and have to stand for re-election in 2012 – insist on working closely together with the nationalists. The prime minister of the Flemish government, Kris Peeters, seems to work in the same direction. His goal is to become the undisputed new leader of the Christian-democrats and to gain through institutional reform more power for the Flemish government, where the Christian-democrats are still in the lead.
Di Rupo brought up some far-reaching proposals about devolution into the negotiations, including some elements of the labour market and health policies. About 15 million euro of budgets would be transferred from the federal to the regional authorities. This would have been unthinkable three years ago and represented some fiddling at the absolute taboo of French-speaking parties: the devolution of social security.
But De Wever and his Christian democratic allies had the impression – in discussions that have remained informal, as no texts have been brought up to now - that their counterparts were offering the Flemish a large transfer of budgets, but without the competence to change the rules to spend it. Therefore the NVA-leader proposed on the 16th of August to discuss the Finance Law, the law that regulates the competences to tax citizens and the partition of tax revenues for the federal level and the regions.
Di Rupo reacted angrily, as he was convinced that De Wever had previously, in an agreement between both, accepted not to discuss that highly complicated and very sensitive matter, but to wait until the first budget of the new government. King Albert then intervened to bring the parties around the table again.
The discussions started Saturday anew, but seem to have been unstructured, rather chaotic and without progress. Today or in the next few days it should become clear if a breakthrough lies around the corner, or that the mission of di Rupo has come to an end. Seventy-one days after the elections, the real formation still has to begin.